How To Avoid Sensitive Issues When Teaching ESL

How To Avoid Sensitive Issues When Teaching ESL

Andrei Zakhareuski
by Andrei Zakhareuski 7,849 views |

Depending on where you are teaching, it is important to remember that certain issues might be taboo.

Of course, this is going to vary from culture to culture. A lot of teachers will find that they are going to be going abroad for work. Popular destinations at the moment include South Korea, Vietnam and China. China in particular is currently experiencing a boom. As a result, more English teachers are required than are actually available. Whether you are teaching as an online job, or are actually physically in the country, do a little bit of research before going over. Take a look at what the main culture finds acceptable, and what it doesn’t. There have even been certain cases where people have been jailed due to certain perceived insults, although there was actually no harm intended by them! Usually, within a lot of Western countries, these won’t be very big problems. It is still a good idea to take a look over how they differ from your own culture anyway. Germany, France and many other countries in Western Europe tend to have only a few cultural differences, due to a common history. This won’t necessarily be the case if you are intending to go and teach somewhere like Saudi Arabia or Shanghai. Avoiding certain issues will therefore be something that every teacher needs to watch out for.

How to Avoid Sensitive Issues

  1. 1

    Avoiding the Issue

    Sometimes students might want to discuss something which may not necessarily be appropriate for the class, and might even be offensive to certain members. If this happens, then it is a good idea to quickly direct the conversation away. Perhaps introduce a new part of the topic. Another good idea is probably to suggest that everyone play a game in order to practice their language skills. As the old saying goes, two things should never be discussed at the dinner table, and those are politics and religion. In general, the same can be applied to a class. Of course, sometimes topics of religion come up so it is important to be aware of the students’ reactions to it. Keep the debate civilized, and above all, try to avoid your own personal opinion. At the end of the day, you’re trying to teach a language. A culture class is something else, therefore it is no sin to change the topic at hand.

  2. 2

    Being Aware of Cultural Differences

    Another way of avoiding certain issues which might be deemed sensitive (such as women’s status in Islamic countries, if you happen to be teaching there) is to be aware of the difference from the beginning. Depending on how strict a Muslim country is, if you are female you will probably have to cover up to a certain extent. Respecting a country’s ways is key here.

  3. 3

    Multiple Cultures

    Even teaching abroad, you might find that you have a classroom filled with people from all over the world. This is particularly true in countries like Germany. A lot of the time, they will be businesspeople as this is probably the most in-demand form of English teaching available. The teacher must also keep in mind that just because students share a similar language, it does not mean they have a similar culture. For example, English speakers can be found all over the world. They come from many different backgrounds: South Africa, Britain, Ireland, the United States, etc.. Whilst there are similarities, Irish culture can be seen as being vastly different from American culture right down to the difference in slang. Likewise, those students who are Spanish speaking might not necessary be from the same part of Spain, or even country. There are often huge differences between Spanish and Latin American culture. Within Spain, one can find people of Basque origin, Galician, Catalonian and much more. Therefore one needs to keep these facts in mind when teaching the class to ensure that certain issues might be avoided. An example being that the Basque people have been aiming for independence from Spain. Keeping this out of the conversation will allow for a much more peaceful lesson.

In countries where discussing certain topics might be a big risqué, it is important to stick to rather neutral issues such as housing, cost of living etc.

If there is an economic recession going on, be careful when discussing things like unemployment. Religion, for the most part, is a no-go area in countries such as China. If you have any doubts, then speak with the head of the school and see what is acceptable and what isn’t. It is always best to be safe than sorry!

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